A few months ago, my little girl celebrated her second annual “Come Dressed as Your Favorite Superhero” birthday party, proudly outfitted in a Green Lantern tutu-dress.
“Why don’t you dress her like Wonder Woman or Supergirl?” I was asked. “Surely, she’ll be able to identify more with ‘girlier’ heroes.”
As a superhero enthusiast myself, I didn’t quite understand the question. Wonder Woman is a fun and relatable superhero because of her arsenal of weapons and combat skills, not because of her gender. Batman is an exciting character for my daughter to read about because he solves crimes and defeats villains, without the use of superpowers, and not because he does so with a daily dose of testosterone. Why should my children be limited in their role models and character obsessions, when an entire Universe of SUPER champions are available to them?
I’m proud that society has evolved enough that we no longer ask whether or not little girls should be interested in superheroes at all, and thrilled that there has been an influx of superhero merchandise and programming marketed specifically towards little girls, but I worry about the message in telling my toddler that ‘these superheroes are for you, but the others, not so much.’ Doesn’t that communication dispirit girls just as much as it empowers them?
When my daughter pretend-plays with her friends, I want her to wield Thor’s hammer because it’s a cool superpower, not because there’s now a female version of the hero. Similarly, my son should feel both comfortable and excited to lift the Lasso of Truth, even though I have yet to see a male version of Wonder Woman enter the scene. I’m frightened that by “welcoming” young girls into the world of comic books, we are also limiting their ability to embrace what makes superheroes so meaningful.
I was personally never such a fan of Superman, however. I found that because he was so much more powerful than his opponents while not threatened by Kryptonite, and completely ineffective while exposed to Kryptonite, his battles and struggles never felt thrilling or suspenseful. My dislike of the character had nothing to do with the fact that he was male and I was female, but everything to do with the person (or alien) who he was.
I want my daughter to learn about these heroes, study their powers, and decide which ones inspire and empower her to overcome the obstacles and insecurities that will inevitably plague her childhood and adulthood on occasion. I want her to channel Spiderman when his story motivates her, and imitate Hawk Girl when her narrative provides a more teachable moment. And I never, ever want her to feel like there is anyone or anything she can’t aspire to, especially because of something as silly and senseless as gender.